Black Lives In Music survey highlights systemic and institutionalised industry racism

Black Lives In Music survey highlights systemic and institutionalised industry racism

The Black Lives In Music (BLiM) organisation has released the results and findings of a landmark survey, which set out to capture data on the experiences of music industry professionals and creators. 

It found conclusive evidence supporting the long-held beliefs about racial discrimination and has illustrated disturbing experiences of systemic and institutionalised racism in the UK music industry.

The largest survey of Black musicians and music industry professionals conducted in the UK, partnering with Opinium Research, revealed a majority of those who took part have experienced direct or indirect acts of racism in the music industry. 

The survey provides real-life data in the wake of revelations made by artists including Raye, Alexandra Burke, Little Mix’s Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Beverley Knight, Sugababes’ Keisha Buchanan and Mis-Teeq’s Sabrina Washington, who have spoken out about the covert and overt ways race has been a hindrance to their careers.

In the wake of Black Out Tuesday last year, major labels have pledged to take action and have implemented measures.

Those surveyed by BLiM reported a range of discriminatory acts and “sometimes hostile working environments”. The report also highlighted barriers to progression based on their ethnicity, the marked and particular ways Black women are specifically affected, income inequalities and more.

Additionally, the survey found that Black artists were granted less studio time than their white counterparts, refused event performance opportunities and sometimes told to change the type of music they create. There is also the widespread assumption that they are ‘urban artists’ because of their race, whatever genre of music they make. 

Black female artists in particular have been told by management companies and labels that they need to assimilate to white/Euro-centric standards as they do not know how to market a Black female artist.

Key findings include:

• 86% of all Black music creators agree that there are barriers to progression. This number rises to 89% for Black women and 91% for Black creators who are disabled

• 88% of all Black music professionals agree that there are barriers to progression 

• 63% of Black music creators have experienced direct/indirect racism in the music industry, and more (71%) have experienced racial microaggressions

• 35% of all Black music creators have felt the need to change their appearance because of their race/ethnicity, rising to 43% of Black women

• 73% of Black music professionals have experienced direct/indirect racism in the music industry, and more (80%) have experienced racial microaggressions 

• 31% of all Black music creators believe their mental wellbeing has worsened since starting their music career, rising to 42% of Black women

• 36% of Black music professionals believe their mental wellbeing has declined, rising to 39% of Black women

38% of Black music professionals earn 100% of their income from music compared to 69% of white music professionals.

43% of Black music creators have been offered contracts that compare unfavourably with non-Black colleagues

The survey found some stark data identifying a link between discrimination and mental wellbeing, especially among Black women. Of those surveyed, 42% of Black women said their mental health had worsened since starting a career in music and 16% had sought counselling due to racial abuse. 

We are looking forward to working with all music industry leaders to ensure that we can achieve change

Charisse Beaumont

Citing various reasons from the barriers to progression and overt racial discrimination, the report also found that Black women earn 25% less on average than their white female colleagues, and 46% earn less than half their revenue from music, which creates extra pressure to find other routes to supplement their income.

Survey responses about individual experiences included:

“Jokes about skin colour, Africa, persistent questioning about where I really come from.”

“Black women can’t make rock music, sexual comments about the size of my lips, etc., racial comments about my 'crazy, unruly' afro, etc. I don’t give these comments my energy anymore but feel it's important that people are aware.”

“I was told quite blatantly by a radio station that they were not interested in Black male artists as they were linked to So Solid and other rappers who were getting bad press, even though I was a singer singing about love.”

“My mental health was the worst while I was signed. I would only sign an admin deal moving forward, and even then, I'd want a Black female A&R.”

“Black music is always viewed as having to come up with something that’s so called original, and that has never been done before... however, that's not the case for white music and musicians. It's still okay to sound like The Beatles or Oasis. But if you're Black and play a guitar, you're told you sound like Hendrix - it's been done before!“

The BLiM Survey makes several recommendations to address the issues and emphasises collaboration across the UK music industry as key to addressing imbalances. 

Transparency around the gender and ethnic pay gap, training programmes to increase diversity in middle and senior management in music organisations and investment in grassroots music education are some of the key points. BLiM also calls on the music industry to create an anti-racism support service with therapeutic support and a helpline available to Black creators and professionals who experience racism in the music industry. 

Charisse Beaumont (pictured), chief executive, Black Lives in Music, said: “You cannot change what you cannot measure. Nearly 2,000 people responded to our survey on ‘the lived experience of Black music creators and industry professionals in the UK music industry’. That is 2,000 people hoping for genuine change. This is a first of its kind report which holds a mirror up to the UK music industry showing what it actually looks like. The disparities Black creators and industry professionals are faced with are rooted in traditionalism and systemic racism. The report highlights racist culture and behaviours in the workplace, financial barriers and lack of investment in Black music creators, and industry professionals unable to reach their career goals. 

“The report also spotlights Black women being the most disadvantaged across all areas of the music industry and how all of these factors affect the mental health of Black creators and industry professionals. This is data, you cannot ignore it. The data clearly shows that change is needed across the entire music ecosystem from grass root education to all the way up to record labels. I hope industry leaders read this report and hear the voice of those who spoke out. I hope this report evokes change in the way we do our music business which has greatly profited from Black talent. We are looking forward to working with all music industry leaders to ensure that we can achieve change, together.”

Help Musicians CEO James Ainscough said: “Thanks to Black Lives in Music, the data in this report proves that the individual stories we hear from professional musicians cannot be explained away as rare, one-off incidents but are illustrative of significant, widespread problems that we must all work together to address. It is clear there is more that Help Musicians should do, collaboratively, to create lasting change within the music ecosystem and we look forward to engaging with the BLiM team to work out where we can be most impactful. It is a privilege to be a major funder of BLiM and we hope that the creation of this report will help us, and others, make a difference to improving the lives and careers of Black musicians.” 

PRS Foundation CEO Joe Frankland said: “The UK music sector has a lot more work to do to tackle the anti-Black racism which prevents Black music creators and music professionals from fulfilling their potential and is therefore holding the whole industry back. The Black Lives in Music Report 2021 lays out severe inequalities and differences in experiences in a way that makes it easy to see how underrepresented, marginalised and under-supported Black people in music are, and how urgently we must all address these issues.

“The report has built a much clearer picture of the barriers we have been discussing through our Power Up initiative launch and participant open call. A huge majority of Black music creators and industry professionals experience barriers to progression, with an unacceptable proportion of people experiencing direct and indirect racism. And these barriers have worsened as a result of the pandemic which is disproportionately impacting those already underrepresented. The situation for Black women in the survey is different and more pronounced, and an intersectionality lens needs to be applied to any work the sector does to improve things.

“As CEO at PRS Foundation, I am more determined than ever to address the issues shown in the report, and through Power Up we are proud to work closely with Charisse, Roger and the Black Lives In Music team, aligning approaches to achieve the meaningful change many survey respondents and those in the wider music community demand.”

Faryal Khan-Thompson, VP of international at Tunecore, said: “Black Women Matter: We still need to identify, acknowledge, and tackle the problem of intersectional racism in the music industry that hits Black women the worst. This report clearly highlights this, and it is so important to have research done that focuses specifically on the challenges Black creators and industry professionals face, because we know that much of the industry has and continues to profit off of Black people and appropriates Black culture; and yet they are the most disadvantaged community in the industry today. BLIM’s report should serve as a catalyst for industry-wide change. 

“As a woman of South Asian descent, it’s important I recognize my various privileges but also solidarities with Black communities, that lead naturally to developing an allyship with them, especially Black women creators in the industry. There is a lot of work to be done, and I commend BLIM for their groundbreaking research study and will do whatever I can to support their mission.”

Leigh Morgan, global director of editorial & marketing, Believe, said: “In 2020 we stood in solidarity with the music industry and the community of Black professionals, initially we participated in #BlackoutTuesday. Since then our teams have been building initiatives, strategies and finding leading partners to help break down the barriers of structural racism which are not only pervasive within the music industry but throughout society. At Believe we feel passionately that things need to change and this change is being sought by our people at every level. We have been extremely happy to have found and work with the team at BLiM here in the UK. We thank them for creating this first of a kind report. The report makes for uncomfortable reading but we are fully supportive of it and its findings.”

Graham Davies, CEO of The Ivors Academy, said: “We fully support the report’s recommendations and are committed to playing our part to bring about transformative change in the music industry. Our thanks go to Black Lives in Music and all the respondents for providing details of their experiences. This report is an important step towards our shared goal of an inclusive industry that’s free of prejudice and discrimination, where there’s equal opportunity and treatment, and we create positive and lasting change for Black music creators.”

The report will be available to download here.

BLiM hosts a weekly series of webinars, Being Black In The UK Music Industry, from October 13 to November 3, dissecting the report and what it means to be a Black creator or industry professional in the UK, co-sponsored by Tunecore. 

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